As streaming takes over from downloading, services from Spotify to Beats Music to Google are scrambling to answer a key question: What do listeners want to hear next? Spotify's new move in that direction involves a marketing partnership with Viacom-owned cable channels such as MTV, VH1 and Country Music Television.
Earlier this week, the two companies announced a deal that will make music from popular shows from VH1's Love and Hip Hop to MTV's Video Music Awards available via Spotify's Browse section over the next three months. "MTV understands audiences and genres better than most — in some ways, they created these genres," Jorge Espinel, Spotify's head of global business development, tells Rolling Stone. "It's great for them to provide their voice, which is unique in our platform."
Viacom's programmers will create and maintain more than 100 playlists on the service; Spotify will stream songs on the channels' online artist pages. "Instead of just being able to watch videos, you're going to actually be able to listen to Spotify," says Shannon Connolly, senior vice president of music strategy for MTV, VH1 and CMT. "The partnership is pretty expansive — it goes beyond the shows."
As streaming grows into the next big format for the music business — revenues from subscription services increased 51 percent last year, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry — high-tech giants such as Apple, Google and Amazon are competing to dominate the market. Because all the services tend to have similar technology and interchangeable song catalogs, they've been trying to distinguish themselves through "curation." Earlier this year, Apple bought heavily programmed Beats Music for a reported $3 billion and Google bought playlist-creation service Songza.
Espinel calls the Viacom deal part of Spotify's effort to create "different voices and different angles" within the service. "We think of this as programming," he says.
With mixed results, Viacom has attempted to be on the leading edge of new high-tech media over the last 15 years. In the early days of the Internet, it had a splashy presence on the America Online service, and just as the YouTube era was beginning in 2005, MTV launched its own video website, Overdrive, with mixed success. (Viacom also works closely with Apple, Spotify's rival, selling apps, shows and podcasts on iTunes.) "We're the OG curators," Connolly says of MTV, which celebrates its 33rd anniversary next month. "We've been doing it for a really long time — way before music blogs started."